Required Eating: 10 Meals Not to Miss in Aruba

Taste your way through Aruba’s diverse cuisine with stuffed cheese, conch stew, savory pastries, and more.

Row of cooks in aprons bending over plates in kitchen

For the most innovative dining experience in Aruba, head to Infini in Noord.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

If you can pry yourself away from Aruba’s idyllic beaches, food adventures abound. Challenged with growing produce on a small, arid island, early Arubans ate what was easily available, including soups and stews of goat, chicken, or seafood; cheese casseroles stuffed with what was left in the larder; and, of course, the catch of the day. Over time, however, the more than 90 nationalities that call the island home have created a rich gastronomic tapestry, complete with flavors from the Caribbean, North and South America, Indonesia, Asia, Europe, and elsewhere.

Today, there’s also an exciting new energy infusing Aruba’s food scene with modern restaurants in restored heritage houses, chef’s table dinners, and gourmet walking tours. Even creative plant-based fare has taken root on the island.

To experience the island’s compelling culinary mix of old and new, we’ve rounded up the 10 best foods in Aruba and where to try them.

Fresh fish

At Taste My Aruba, convivial owner Nathaly de Mey shares the flavors of fresh fish she remembers from her childhood on the island. Using her own fleet of Aruban fishermen, she serves only what’s fresh that morning, whether that’s red snapper, wahoo, mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna, grouper, or even lobster. Guests at the inviting restaurant, housed in a restored century-old building in downtown Oranjestad, enjoy the fish expertly prepared, often with a traditional red Creole sauce of peppers and herbs from de Mey’s own garden. Dine inside or out, but don’t miss the house-made cashew nut cake for dessert.

Exterior of Papiamento with potted palms (L); a few dining tables beside shallow pool at dusk (R)

At Papiamento, you can dine poolside on authentic Aruban dishes like keshi yena, or stuffed cheese.

Photos by Michelle Heimerman

Keshi yena, or stuffed cheese

The national dish of the ABC islands, keshi yena (stuffed cheese), comes in many different varieties—and every Aruban family has a closely guarded recipe of their own. It began as the hollowed rind of Edam or Gouda cheese, stuffed with beef, chicken, or seafood as well as onions, peppers, tomato sauce, olives, capers, raisins, and cashews, but it now qualifies as any type of casserole topped with melted Dutch cheese. One of the best versions is available at Papiamento in Noord, where the Ellis family combines shredded tenderloin, chicken, and some secret ingredients and cooks them to thick, bubbly perfection.

Aruban stobas (stews)

At Elements Restaurant, located in the adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort overlooking Eagle Beach, the team of Caribbean chefs cook up a buffet of authentic dishes from Aruba, Jamaica, Haiti, and other countries every Monday through Saturday. Seek out the Aruban stobas (stews), especially the calco stoba (conch stew in rich red sauce) and papaya stoba (made with unripe papaya, goat meat, salted beef, and pork tail), and spice them up with some pica di papaya (Aruba’s famous hot sauce). Also be sure to mop up the broth with pan bati (a flat cornmeal bread) and finish with kesio (a rich caramel custard).

Overhead view of a few pastechis and a pink batido (L); exterior of the Pastechi House in Oranjestad

You’ll find the most delicious versions of pastechis and batidos at the Pastechi House in Oranjestad.

Photos by Michelle Heimerman

Pastechis (pastries) and batidos (fruit shakes)

Aruba’s fast-food staple, pastechis are deep-fried, half-moon pastries, stuffed with such fillings as chicken, beef, tuna, vegetables, or cheese. They’re best paired with a batido (fresh fruit shake). For the ultimate example, stop by the Pastechi House in Oranjestad, where the friendly owner will help you choose from fillings like ham and cheese, lobster, and even chop suey. Don’t forget to order a batido, available here in enticing flavors like tamarin and soursop, then take your to-go treasures to a bench on Oranjestad’s colorful backstreets and enjoy them like a local.

Caribbean rock lobster

Caribbean rock lobster is a denser, clawless cousin of its Atlantic counterpart, best enjoyed grilled to reveal its sweeter flavor. To try it for yourself, drive to the little fishing village of Savaneta in southeast Aruba and dine at the Old Man and the Sea, located at the waterfront Aruba Ocean Villas. Here, the freshly caught crustacean comes à la vodka style on a bed of penne pasta. The intimate tables in the two overwater palapas are reserved for villa guests, but you’ll do just as well at a table on the tiki torch–lit beach with soft, live music under the stars.

Two pieces of sushi in white bowl, garnished with small white flowers

At Infini, the 8-course tasting menu changes nightly and features locally sourced ingredients.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

A chefs table experience

Experience Aruba’s culinary avant garde at a choice of more than 12 chef’s table experiences now available on the island. Infini is a popular choice. This 21-seat chef’s table is helmed by celebrated Aruban chef Urvin Croes, who’s known for his ultra-modern technique, artistic plating, and passion for experimentation. Enjoy eight-course dinners made from locally sourced ingredients as well as hand-selected seasonal products from around the world. Pair each course with a choice of curated wines or craft cocktails. New Senses in the Radisson Blu offers a choice of two venues under one roof with one side a chef’s table and the other an à la carte restaurant. Koal and Ever in downtown Oranjestad are other newcomers to the scene. You’ll find the only family style chef’s experience at the Kitchen Table at Paradise Villas, while the very intimate 2 Fools & a Bull is strictly adults only. You’ll find them tucked away behind Palm Beach.

Cuba-inspired ropa vieja

Cuban food in Aruba is a result of tough economic times at the turn of the century when Aruban men went to Cuba in search of work. Many of them returned with Cuban wives, who brought with them traditional dishes like ropa vieja, featuring shredded beef and strips of colorful vegetables sautéed in a sofrito sauce. For a heavenly rendition, head to Cuba’s Cookin’, a lively restaurant in the Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad that transports diners to Cuba circa 1959 with traditional dishes and live Latin music. They also offer an impressive vegan menu, including a plant-based version of ropa vieja, made with tofu instead of braised skirt steak. Whichever one you order, be sure to accompany it with a hand-crafted mojito. They even have a mojito-to-go stand.

Overhead view of two types of pannekoeken at the Dutch Pancakehouse (one with blueberries on top at right)

Go savory or sweet with the myriad pannekoeken options at the Dutch Pancakehouse.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

Dutch pancakes and poffertjes

Pannekoeken (Dutch pancakes) are lighter and thinner than the American version and often have fresh fruit cooked into the cakes rather than piled on top. They’re also commonly served as a savory dish for dinner, like the ones available at the Dutch Pancakehouse in Oranjestad. Try the Milano (with salami, cheese, onion, bell pepper, and oregano). Tucked away in Arawak Gardens on the Palm Beach strip, Willem’s Dutch Pancakes has a comprehensive menu of sweet and savory versions, and both spots also serve poffertjes, powdered sugar-topped silver dollar–size pancakes. Try them to-go at Poffertjes van Pofferdorie, a big mouthful to say for such a small kiosk serving tiny treats, but they’re well worth finding at the Village Mall for their decadent secret sauces. They open at 6 pm. During the day you can savor Dutch pancakes in a beautifully restored 200-year-old windmill (De Olde Molen) just off Palm Beach at King Fred Princess Diana until 1 pm.

Dutch stroopwafels

If you’ve flown United Airlines, you’re likely familiar with this delightful Dutch goodie. Its first creation was in the late 17th century in Gouda (where the famous Dutch cheese originates) and was born of frugality. Not wanting to waste daily leftover dough, a local baker fried it up like thin waffles (“wafels”) and whipped up a simple sweet syrup (“stroop”) of caramel-cinnamon to glue two of them together. And voila! Stroopwafels were born. Superfoods Plaza has a permanent demo kiosk where you can watch their creation and sample them piping hot. (The syrup is better when gooey and melty.) Willem’s Dutch Pancakes has an outside kiosk for freshly made to-go versions, and the little souvenir shop at the famous Natural Bridge also makes them on site. If you’re seeking decadently different variations, Poffertjes van Pofferdorie dips theirs in various toppings like coconut, sprinkles, crushed cookies, candies, and nuts. And Quinta del Carmen and Senses Fine Dining creatively incorporate stroopwafels into their signature desserts. But for a uniquely spirited souvenir, take home a bottle of stroopwafel liqueur to go with your prepackaged stack. You’ll find the Van Meer’s brand available duty-free at the airport.

Bolos, pans, & snack boxes

When it comes to baked goods, Arubans like a combo of sweet and savory, and the most popular spots to grab and go, or even stay and sample, are the local bakeries. Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz and Bright Bakery in Piedra Plat (near Mount Hooiberg) are two great choices. Both offer on-site dining and local specialty main dishes, too. Bread is called pan, and pan dushi (sweet bread) is the breakfast choice. It comes raisin-laden and by the loaf or roll. For after dinner desserts, it’s all about bolos (cakes). Cashew cake made from locally grown nuts is a specialty, and rum-laden bolo borracho (drunk cake) is as fun as it sounds.

But this island also adores special snack boxes to go. A typical box includes a deep-fried Dutch meat snack like a kroket or bitterballen, a loempia (thick-battered spring roll), a pastechi, maybe a sweet, and at least one webo yena (deviled egg). Locals have such a love for deviled eggs that there’s an Aruban expression that translates to “no eggs, no party!” There’s even a music video about that (Sin Webo N’ Tin Fiesta ). You can get snack boxes at most bakeries, and this business delivers: NosOrguyo297.

This article originally appeared in May 2022. It was updated in February 2024.

Susan Campbell is an award-winning travel journalist based in Montreal who has been covering the Caribbean for over 25 years with an in-depth specialty focusing on Dutch Caribbean islands.
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